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Kalinga heritage woven into fashion

By THERESE JAMORA-GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 30, 2021 6:00 am

What’s beautiful about Philippine weaves is that you don’t just get a unique fashion item to wear; you get a story woven into the fabric itself.

When I see the distinctive red and black of a Kalinga weave, it brings me back to the time we visited the misty mountains of the Cordilleras, and met a kind and gentle people who shared their food and coffee with us — the women clad in colorful blouses and wraparound skirts, while the men wore loincloths, headbands and sashes.

Bagoyan founder Jasmine Baac is proud of her Kalinga heritage. Born in Baguio and raised in Kalinga Province as a member of the Tobog tribe, “my Kalinga name is ‘Bagoyan,’” she explains. “I was named after my great-grandmother, who was a mandadawak (healer) in our tribe, and was said to foretell the future. She had a very important role in the tribe and to the other tribes, as well.” 

Bagoyan founder Jasmine Baac’s Kalinga name, Bagoyan, means ‘beautiful.’ ‘It means a woman of strength, of virtue, of power. I don’t know if I could ever live up to that name and be of value in our society, but I am trying.’

Baac’s grandfather was also a tribal leader, while her uncle was a three-term governor of the province. “He initiated the campaign ‘Kalinga Shines’ and heavily promoted our culture,” she says.

Baac’s Kalinga name “Bagoyan” means “beautiful.” “It means a woman of strength, of virtue, of power,” Baac says. “I don’t know if I could ever live up to that name and be of value in our society, but I am trying.”

 Colorful culture: Bagoyan offers apparel, headbands, masks, blankets and shawls made from Kalinga weaves.

On May 23, 2020, as Baac was lying in bed looking up at her bedroom ceiling, an idea came to her. “I’d always wanted to promote our province, Kalinga. I wanted to help the weavers and give justice to the beautiful fabrics that they do and pay them fairly. I wanted to empower them so they could also raise girls and boys who are confident and who value culture and tradition.”

Since that was at the height of the pandemic and most transactions had migrated online, Baac thought that an online shop would be the perfect choice to make all that happen. 

“On that day, Bagoyan was born. It is an online shop where I showcase hand-woven products from Kalinga: masks, shawls, shrugs, skirts, headbands, etc. What provided added motivation for me is the fact that I am into fashion. I love clothes; I love dressing up.”

As a child, Baac would not just accept what her mother gave her to wear. “I would change it; I would choose my own,” she says. “Growing up, I was always excited to dress up. It motivates me; it sets my day. I will never go out of the house looking unkempt, even when I throw out my trash.  I dress up for me because it makes me happy.”

At first, the self-described fashionista hesitated to start her own business because she was working as a senior legal manager in a food company (she moved to Manila from Kalinga to study law). “I thought I might not have the time, but, as they say, when you want something done, anything is possible.” 

She enlisted the Mabilong Tribe of Kalinga and Cordilleran women based in Quezon, Isabela, to produce hand-woven masks, matching headbands and ear savers. 

Kalinga province is home to different tribes of mountain people living in the Cordilleras. Photo from Kalinga Tourism

Baac then created an Instagram account for all the products sent to her via courier from the province. “I posted them, marketed them, packed them, sent them to customers via Grab on weekends or during lunch breaks, and it was fun!”

Grab even awarded her as one of their top sellers, giving her a letter and a box of premium chocolates. “I don’t earn that much because I am so maarte that I want good packaging, ribbons, labels, etc., for my products,” she laughs. “I send money to the weavers, to the mananahi. I treat them to Chickenjoy and milk tea, which, for them, is a big thing. I give them money for groceries.”

Six months after it was founded, Bagoyan continued to grow. More products were added like tops, skirts, kimonos, shawls, belts, shrugs, bags, blankets, earrings, table runners, and even Kalinga coffee.

Bagoyan also earned enough to provide 10 senior high school students their school needs. “I give street sweepers and guards, or random people masks,” Baac says. “I give a little amount to Grab drivers, or baggers at grocery stores. Essentially, Bagoyan helped me help people. I am happy. I felt that I added beauty and relevance to that name.”

Six months after she founded it, Bagoyan continued to grow. She added more products like tops, skirts, kimonos, shawls, belts, shrugs, bags, blankets, earrings, table runners, and even Kalinga coffee.

She collaborated on masks with a woman she met at one of the Rockwell fairs, Manang Bernadette, from whom she bought a tote bag she loved. Half made of hand-woven Kalinga fabric and half Bernadette’s “MaskUlados” and “MaskCaras,” they’re called B X B masks, are sold in limited quantities and can be personalized with your initial.

Prices for Bagoyan products range from P350 for the coffee to P10,500 for a full ensemble or blanket, depending on the fabric and type of clothing. 

High-profile women like Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat and Senator Loren Legarda patronize Bagoyan and wear her masks and tops.

“I started shipping internationally to Europe, Australia, the US, and Singapore,” notes Baac. 

Humans of Pinas featured her story and the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines invited her to give her definition of an empowered woman.

“I may never be as noble as my great-grandmother in terms of what she accomplished for the tribe and for Kalinga during her lifetime, but I know that I am doing my best to make an indelible contribution to our community,” Baac says. “What’s important for me now is to have a higher sense of purpose and to be relevant in our society.”

She says she feels her Kalinga heritage through her name, her passion to promote Kalinga and her love for local. “Until now we follow rituals… I may be modern in a lot of ways but the values and tradition we strictly follow. I live the Kalinga way every day.”